Coach's Column - August 1997

from Max Jones

This C.C. is not about training, it's about de-training. For unmarried professional runners, there is no conflict of priorities between family, job and running : for the other 99.999% of athletes, there will be times when all the training benefits we have gained ebb away as we have to attend to more important aspects of Life. But the words "ebb away" may suggest comparison with the slow retreat of a tide from a summer beach. Not so : a report I read recently said that "about one half of the benefits of endurance training - increases in blood volume, stroke volume and VO2 max. - are lost within 2 to 3 weeks of stopping training". So that's it, then : spend a fortnight on holiday with the family - training not allowed, of course - and 3 month's worth of training melts away in the Mediterranean sun. Your big heart, developed by all those races and tempo runs, withers away to its good-only-for-walking-to-bus-stops size, while your well above average VO2 max., so patiently built up with all those hill reps, sinks 15 or so points as those oversize leg muscles atrophy away. You don't have to spend 1500 on a summer holiday to achieve this degradation, of course, being off injured or having to work double time for a couple of weeks will do just as badly.

But do not despair. When you're able to train again, do no more than you are capable of at first - slower-by-10-seconds 400s and only three (slow) mile reps instead of the five - and you'll soon be your former self again (literally!)

Another article reported on leg-strengthening exercises undertaken by 90 year olds - yes, ninety - who were subjected to an 8 week programme "to train quadriceps and hamstring muscles during a seated leg extension/flexion movement". After 8 weeks of training for each of these 9 not so young people - like most of us! - the weight lifted by the right leg increased from an average of 8kg to 20.6kg (and for the left leg from 7.6kg to 19.3kg), an increase in strength of these muscles of rather more than 21/2 times! The "volunteers" could all walk more quickly afterwards, 2 without their walking sticks. At the end of the trial - in two senses of the word? - they sat back in their armchairs, remotes in hand : a month later they were hauled back into the lab again and a 32% loss in strength was noted!

Earlier research, on active athletes, has shown that endurance capacity can be maintained for over a month if even only one weekly tempo or hill session is carried out. So if it's just a holiday you're going on, as distinct from being sidelined by injury, job or family responsibilities, try to negotiate an agreement that you are allowed an hour by yourself, with trainers on, each week. It may cost you, but it'll keep the dreaded atrophy at bay!

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Created by Bob Jackson eMail
Created on 20 Oct 1997